Are You Flunking Life? - True Education

What is the true purpose of education? It is an honest question that each of us with the opportunity for higher education must ask.In the recent article from Q Ideas called Learning for the Common Good, Byron Borge offers a review of two books that critique the educational mindset of America. He specifically draws out from his review of Postman’s The End of Education; Redefining the Value of School that the true purpose of education has gone astray in America. Borge identifies the “American educational myth” and suggests that education is largely focused on “passing the right sorts of tests to enable one to get to the right kind of college whereby one can (of course) be done with learning and enter a lucrative career.”Sadly, this seems to be the most that many students and universities have come to expect from each other. Even at the most esteemed universities students aren’t “learning” as much as they are simply filling their brains with facts and then dumping them out on paper. There seems to be a divorce between factual knowledge and what Nobel Prize winning chemist and scholar Michael Polanyi called personal or tacit knowledge.True learning cannot happen without taking the ownership required to seek true knowledge. The type of knowledge our educational institutions and our culture value most today is disconnected, dispassionate, and depersonalized. This knowledge is often thought of as “objective” and superior to “subjective” beliefs about how a person should use what he knows to relate to the world and those around him. In other words, knowledge is divorced from a consistent and coherent worldview.What I mean, is that many students and professors alike treat learning, for example, like handing a seven year old a one page summary on the physics and mechanics of riding a bicycle and telling the child, "everything you need to know about riding a bike is on that paper." The seven year old would probably tell you no thanks I already know how to ride a bike, I just got my training wheels off last week. True learning is holistic, driven by passion, and personally empirical. It coherently relates the objective and subjective realities of life. It cannot be separated from real life or one’s character, which our culture wants to label as subjective experience. True learning must be applied to how we live.

True learning must be applied to how we live.

The consequences of not doing this are dire. In the words of Wendell Berry, we have created a “lesser economy” of education that is now in tension with the “greater economy” of life. The lesser economy of American education is based on the currency of “objective” knowledge – disconnected, dispassionate, and depersonalized. The greater economy is the ultimate reality in which we live that creates the rules we must play by if we are to promote the common good in all facets of life: economics, politics, the arts, education, entertainment, etc. The tension between our created lesser economy of “objective” knowledge and ultimate reality is that objective knowledge can be used to promote allusions of false realities. Both students and professors have the responsibility to engage true learning and true knowledge by attempting to apply what they learn to the reality of life.A few weeks ago I was having breakfast with my professor and dear friend Dr. Steve Garber who founded the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture.  We were discussing the idea of ‘calling’ in life. During our time he asked me what some of my favorite classes were at Grove City College. I couldn’t name a specific topic or course, but rather said the courses I loved most were one’s that were taught by great professors who were passionate about what they taught. Truly great professors, had a way of opening my eyes to the subject at hand. They made it meaningful, pragmatic, and applicable to ‘real life’ and things that ‘really mattered’. This is the difference that Dr. Garber talks about between "getting straight A’s in school, but flunking life."

Getting straight A’s in school, but flunking life

As a proud graduate of Grove City College I can say thankfully that my education has made a profound impact on the trajectory of my life. I have been transformed by the renewing of my mind to realize that education is more than just a ticket to affluence. Education – personal, holistic, and passionate – has provided me with the tools to understand how I am personally and uniquely suited to engage the world. In short, my education has equipped me to be a lifelong learner of the world, because education is more than just a means to an end, but also an end in and of itself.Garrett Cichowitz

FeaturedMark Rodgers